Community anger boils over downsized rec centre

  • August 6, 2008

TORONTO - Amid vocal community opposition, a controversial $2.7-million community centre at Etobicoke’s Father John Redmond Catholic High School is set to begin construction this fall.

Toronto Catholic District School Board trustee Ann Andrachuk said the agreement between the City of Toronto and the board to complete the Ken Cox Community Centre is “moving forward.”

At first glance, the project appears to be an innovative and cost-effective way of using public school spaces in light of dwindling student enrolment and tightening budgets. But some community groups say it’s nothing more than an 8,000-square-foot gymnasium “add-on.”

The controversy dates back to 1989 when a Daniels Corp. housing project included a plan to build a $1.8-million, 20,000-square-foot community centre. But since the money sat unused for years, the $1.8-million can now only pay for a smaller centre, said Michael Schreiner, acting manager of capital projects at the City of Toronto’s parks, forestry and recreation department.

City councillor Mark Grimes said the project is a good compromise and a “real benefit for the community,” adding that other councillors are still waiting for community centres in their own wards.

“The money is like that piece of ice melting. The longer you wait, the longer you can’t use it,” he said.

“It’s hard to please everybody. It’s not the ideal facility for the community, but it’s the best we’ve got.”

Some community members aren’t so convinced.

Christian Bortrey, co-creator of a Facebook group called “Where’s our community centre?”  and a Grade 12 student at Father John Redmond, said the current plan is impractical.

“We started the group because we felt the space they were adding was inadequate. It’s half the size of the high school gym,” he said. “We know there isn’t going to be 100-per-cent access to the community. We felt it wasn’t right and we should try to do something.”

City officials said the Ken Cox Community Centre will include new dressing rooms, offices and a single gym to be attached to the high school via a connecting corridor.

The school’s existing double gym will form part of the centre, along with the school atrium, classrooms, theatre and dance studio. The centre will be open to the community Mondays and Fridays from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

On the weekends, the centre will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., said John Fulton, City of Toronto manager for community recreation in Etobicoke.

“I really like this concept of sharing community space with other groups,” he said. “It saves a tremendous amount of money in operating and construction.

In addition to financial benefits, Andrachuk said the Etobicoke-Lakeshore community will benefit from the high school’s “state of the art facility.”

This is also a positive development for the area since it lacks a large community centre, she said, adding that “it provides somewhere for kids to go.”

But it’s this concern for having a community hub for potentially restless youth, especially in an area with a high concentration of young people and increasing poverty rates, that some groups said is the reason why they have been opposing the project.

Amber Morley, executive director of the South Etobicoke Youth Assembly, said she recently attended the funeral of one of two youth from the neighbourhood who was killed July 20 in an apparent gang-related shooting.

“We will be mourning their loss and try to emphasize how important it is to have alternatives for youth,” she said.

Jasmin Earle, chair of the Lakeshore Community Centre Workgroup, said investing in a new, larger and affordable community centre is also an investment in young people.

Meanwhile, Etobicoke-based LAMP Community Health Centre’s executive director Russ Ford said he’s baffled that the city is spending $2 million on a new ice skating trail which he said isn’t a neighbourhood priority.

These funds could be redirected toward building a bigger community centre which youth can access, he said.

“The house is on fire,” Ford said, “and people are worried about the garage.”

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.